Some foreign policy realists are urging caution when assessing the impact of the visit of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Egypt. The visit, the first by an Iranian leader since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, is an indication of the way the Muslim Brotherhood government of Egypt has warmed up toward a country that Hosni Mubarak spurned as a threat to stability.
But, as the New York Times reports, analysts believe Egypt's continuing need for aid from both the United States and moderate Arab regimes that fear Iran as much as the Americans, will prevent a full restoration of diplomatic relations. But whether or not the two countries go that far or not, the symbolism of the embrace of Ahmadinejad by Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi (who visited Tehran last August) illustrates the way the Brotherhood's ascendancy has fractured American foreign policy objectives in the region. The willingness of Egypt to embrace Iran in this manner undermines U.S. efforts to isolate Tehran and sends the world the message not to take President Obama's threats about stopping Iran's nuclear program seriously. It is also a reminder that the two countries have something in common besides Islam: leaders who engage in anti-Semitic hate speech.
Coming as it did on the eve of the resumption of the West's latest negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, the Ahmadinejad visit brings home the fact that despite all the tough talk heard in Washington, Iran has not been isolated by the diplomatic strategy pursued by President Obama and recently departed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The assumption that the Iranians have been brought to their knees by sanctions and deprived of allies is given the lie by Ahmadinejad's warm reception in Cairo.
Egypt and Iran have strongly disagreed about Syria since Morsi has supported the efforts by other Arab countries to oust the Assad regime. But the factors that unite the two governments - hostility to Israel and support for Hamas - are greater than those that divide them. The Iranians may be looking to use their new friends in Cairo to help float their latest attempt to divert the West from pressing them on nuclear issues. As I wrote yesterday, the Iranians may be seeking to link Assad's fate with that of their nuclear program. They may be hoping the Brotherhood, which retains the ear of the State Department as well as billions in annual aid from the United States, could serve to further muddy the diplomatic waters via this stratagem without committing themselves to anything.
The Egyptians may stop just short of full recognition of Ahmadinejad's government in order to keep U.S. taxpayer dollars flowing to Cairo. But the notion that it is in any conceivable sense an ally is out the window. This incident calls into question the decision to keep that aid flowing without condition as well as the continued sale of sophisticated weapons to Egypt that their forces don't need for self-defense. The closer Egypt draws to Iran, the more it seems as if the peace treaty with Egypt, into which both Israelis and Americans are so heavily, is heading for the scrapheap.
Just as important in many respects is the symbolism of the embrace of two men who have done much to help keep the flames of Jew hatred burning hot recently. Morsi and Ahmadinejad are both on record insulting Jews and Israelis and pledging their destruction as well as for trying to suppress domestic dissent. Far from an innocuous event that shouldn't worry us, when tyrants embrace, decent people everywhere should tremble.
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